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Reblogged:Write for Someone You Vaguely Like

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One never stops learning about writing, and that can include making connections that will have yourself slapping your head and wondering how you failed to make them for so long.

This idea -- summarized by the title -- is one of them, I think. To be clear, I'm more at a stage of letting it percolate: This post is my way of capturing and expanding on it shortly after thinking about it -- out of the blue yesterday evening.
Image by Samantha Gades, via Unsplash, license.

The idea follows from a couple of things. First, the form and purpose are a bit of a rip-off of Leonard Peikoff's advice for achieving psychological distance when editing: Imagine that your piece was written by "someone you vaguely dislike." 

What I think my idea might be helpful for is maintaining empathy, particularly when writing about issues that can make you angry, or tempt you to hurl zingers, or go into a rant.

Second, while hosting a birthday party for the kids, I had a very enjoyable conversation with a neighbor of mine. Unlike me, but like a very difficult person I am forced to deal with regularly, he recycles. This is an issue that easily angers me. It is something that the difficult person once, for example, very publicly tried to pressure me about during a holiday gathering. That person seems completely unable or unwilling to consider that there could at all be an issue with recycling. But the guy at the party? I might never persuade him that recycling is a waste of time, but I sensed a degree of reasonableness about him I never get with the other guy. 

I want to write for people like him, and I want people to remember me with the same goodwill I feel for him.

We didn't go on a tangent about recycling because we were having too much fun talking about other things, but I could see reasonable person there. I can imagine at the worst learning why he recycles and why that would seem to be a rational thing to do.

Maybe I never need to actually discuss recycling with the guy from the party, but just remember that general impression. In today's acrimonious atmosphere, it can be very difficult to remember that there are actually lots of people like this. 

Perhaps, in the same way I get rid of the occasional "earworm" by listening to music I like, I can bring this conversation and other similar ones to mind when writing about issues like this. Forget about the people who repeat platitudes over and over, and remember the interesting ones.

That impression improves focus by causing one to want to appeal to the best of another person: His basic decency and his thinking. It can also improve one's own morale. (The last bit reminds me of one of the better aspects of the early years of the late Rush Limbaugh's radio programs: His program helped numerous Americans realize they were hardly alone in wanting freedom and opposing the worst aspects of  America's cultural and political trends.) It may feel like you've been dropped into a world of malevolent zombies lots of the time, but you haven't.

This may all sound like common sense, and for all my past posting about empathy, I was a little surprised at myself for not thinking of this sooner. But I'm not going to beat myself up over this: In my defense, much of what I have read about empathy has been pitched form an altruistic, or at least an other-focused angle. 

I think I needed to experience for myself the selfish benefit of empathy. I'm a naturally solitary and very introverted person, so I might be an odd duck in that regard, but it did me good to see, in the concrete, a person very much like myself who holds a view I strongly disagree with. (Perhaps I am fortunate to be coming out of the relative isolation of the pandemic: This is hardly the first time I have had such an experience, but it really stood out.)

Thinking of the two pieces of advice together, it seems that in the solitary pursuit of writing, one should strive to be more invested in understanding one's audience, and less invested in what one has already written down. That's the principle, and now I can remember to use concrete experiences like that one to make that more real.

-- CAV

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